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Freeman track coach John Hays, center, and seniors Cody Unfred, left, Quinn Robinson, second from right, and Dan Wheatley. (Tyler Tjomsland)

Freeman seniors lead the way for track and field team

Sometimes the best ideas are born out of desperation.

At Freeman, John Hays uses what he calls his “core leadership team” to help incorporate freshmen track athletes into his program – a program that has met with a great deal of success.

Three of the Scotties’ senior leaders, Cody Unfred, Daniel Wheatley and Quinn Robinson, were brought along by upperclassmen who set them on the path to their current path: Each figures to challenge for a state championship at this weekend’s State 1A track and field championship. The four-year letter-winners power Freeman’s bid to win a pair of relay championships.

Each is a valuable part of the program, helping to coach and inspire the next crop of Scotties.

It’s a program innovation sparked by necessity.

“About 15 years ago our numbers spiked for track,” Hays said. “We may even have topped out at 80 kids when you add the boys and girls teams together. We’re a small school and we only had two coaches for both teams and there was no way we could coach that many kids and give them the kind of attention they need and deserve.”

That situation runs counter to the way Hays runs his program. His goal every year, he insists, is to give the same attention to the least of his athletes as he gives to his best athletes.

So Hays did some thinking and hit on an idea.

“I picked out some of my juniors and seniors and I took them to dinner,” he said.

What the coach discussed over dinner was the beginning of his core leadership program: pairing veterans with incoming freshmen to help mentor and coach.

“These leaders work with the freshmen, they make sure they know where they need to be and when,” Hays said. “On meet days they make sure they get to their event. I think it’s worked out really well.”

Unfred was convinced immediately.

“When I was a freshman, I was paired with Luke Matthews, who had been paired with Kevin Hatch before that,” he said. “Those are two pretty impressive triple jumpers. I watched what Luke did and learned everything I could from him.”

Unfred enters this weekend’s meet as the state’s second-leading leading triple jumper with a personal-best leap of 44 feet, 2 inches at last weekend’s regional meet, though he was edged out for the regional title by Ethan Cabbage of Colville, who jumped 44-3¾.

Unfred’s goal is to surpass Hatch’s school record of 44-9¾. 

“We’re pretty sure he’s already jumped past that mark,” Hays said. “He’s had several jumps where he left a foot shy of the toe board and still was close to 44 feet.”

As a freshman Wheatley was paired with Isaac Hamilton, a standout state sprinter for the Scotties. Now a senior, Wheatley will challenge at state in the 200 meters, where he ran second in 22.89 seconds last week.

Robinson emerged as the school’s top 800 runner as a freshman, which began his conversion from a distance runner. He returns to state to defend his 400 championship from a year ago. He already owns the school record with a personal-best of 49.4.

All three are intent on avenging a second-place finish in the 400 relay a year ago.

The defending champion from the 2010 state meet, Freeman was the favorite going into last year’s final but was edged by Hoquiam.

“We’re definitely looking to get them back,” Wheatley said. “Personally, I like the idea of running from behind. When you’re chasing someone you go faster than if you’re out in front.”

Robinson, who will run the anchor leg for both the 400 and 1,600 relays, insists there’s no need for extra inspiration when it comes to the relays.

“I like to just put everything out of my mind and not even think about it,” he said. “All I need to do is watch my teammates run those first three legs. That’s all the inspiration I need.”